She’s Like The Wind

Lito A. Tacujan - The Philippine Star
She�s Like The Wind
Lydia de Vega.
STAR / File

Note: We are reprinting former sports editor Lito Tacujan’s tribute to Lydia de Vega as the nation grieves.

MANILA, Philippines — Amid the din and drone in the smoke-filled room, with fumes of beer and spill of red wine messing up the long table, the talk centered on Manny Pacquiao.

How this Filipino icon happened in our time, and how future generations would relish reading his storied career through the dispatches of these young scribes. He was a joy to watch, making a nation proud like no other in popular sporting event.

Sandali, a graying sports ed wanted to butt in: “How about Lydia de Vega?”

She came to mind when her 32-year-old mark in the 400-m run was shattered. Lasting 32 years underscored the significance of the feat and kept the name of Lydia de Vega in the consciousness of the fans for over three decades.

She’s the queen of the tracks in her time – the fastest, the best.

Beautiful, tall, long limbed, she ran like the wind, like a gazelle cavorting in an open grassland savannah, sweeping gracefully, magically, to victory.

You can have the masterpiece knockout of a Pacquiao, we’ll take her majestic golden run.

The uninitiated could go surf the internet, the IAAF webpage, for a rundown of her accomplishments in the 80s but you get only the cold stats, not the beauty of the run from a burst of speed at the report of the starting gun, in full throttle in mid-race to a killing, diving surge at the finish.

She’s like the wind.

And she did it better under pressure. Ranged against the local heroine P.T. Usha in the 1982 New Delhi Asian Games, the 18-year-old Diay, as she’s fondly called, slew the Indian Dream before close to 70,000 fans with a time of 11.76 seconds in the 100m.

But she sustained an injury and skipped the 200m duel with Usha. They would meet again and again in a rivalry that fired up Asian athletics.

She would later repeat the feat four years later in the Seoul Asiad with a time of 11.95.

“I love to compete, to be with the best,” said Diay, who started as a junior long jumper in her hometown in Meycauayan and later lit up the Asian athletics firmament with her father-coach Francisco ‘’Tatang” de Vega, whose acerbic wit more often sparked controversies.

Still, she lived and thrived through all these to be the megastar in the Asiad, Asian championships, Asean Cup and the SEA Games which she dominated since 1987, spinning a highlight in the 1991 Manila SEA Games by beating Malaysian rival G. Shanti amid the rhythmic cheers of “Lydia, Lydia, Lydia!”

She would later retire, go into local politics and coach a school team in Singapore, sharing her talent with young runners. How sad. She could have stayed home and be the heart and soul and inspiration of Philippine athletics.

One remembered one day during the 1987 Jakarta SEAG when Lydia de Vega, famous and big star in that Indonesian capital, decided to leave the confines of the athletes village to buy some fruits.

She crossed a busy intersection and all hell broke loose as traffic screeched to a halt, passengers spilled out of a bus to see the Asian Sprint Queen walk away.

They have Manny Pacquiao now. We had Lydia de Vega then.

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